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Trauma-Free Toothbrushing

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Stress-Free Tooth brushing Techniques

With Halloween approaching, I know moms and dads will be wishing they had some better strategies to deal with the child who hates toothbrushing.

Here’s one way:

Apply A Logical (logical to the child!) Consequence

One gift we can give our children is the understanding that in all of life we must take together both our rights and our responsibilities. Applying logical consequences is one part of parenting that respectfully teaches children their responsibilities.

In order for a logical consequence to be effective (and not punitive) it must be:

* Respectful
* Related to the freedom or right
* Revealed to the child in advance so they are able to make a choice.

So let’s see what that looks like for Halloween treats and brushing teeth:

Your children would like to have the freedom to eat (some) sweets. That freedom comes with the responsibility of caring for their teeth by removing the sugar that causes tooth decay. They are a package deal. They should be inseparable.

Let your child know that so long as you see they are able to be responsible for caring for their teeth, you are happy to allow them to have sugar (in the form of pop, juice, milk, candy, cookies and other favorite things) but, should they choose not to care for their teeth, you’ll understand that they are choosing not to have sugar (tooth-rotting substances), and you’ll feed them a “tooth-friendly diet” of just good, wholesome fresh foods.


TTFT (Take time for training)
When they refuse to brush, say “I see you are choosing to not have sugar” and then move right along. Don’t fight / force / lecture – DROP IT! Don’t worry about the effects of one or two or even a week of missed toothbrushing while you are training your child about the connection between this freedom and responsibility.

Mistakes Are Good
Expect your child to make mistakes (to choose not to brush) because that is how we all learn.

Follow Through
Now you must do your part of the consequence: remove the sugar you are feeding your child. This is the hardest part for parents, but this is where the experiential learning happens. When they have demonstrated they can brush as required – they can have sugar again.

Children do not learn from the threat of a consequence – they learn from experiencing the consequence.

Keep A Firm And Friendly Attitude
Don’t say anything negative or judgmental, like, “If you would have brushed like I told you to” or “see, I knew you’d be mad.” Those comments are hurtful and send the message, “I was right, you were wrong.”

About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

More about Alyson

One Response to “Trauma-Free Toothbrushing”

  1. Janette

    I’m dealing with a 2.5 yr old who fights coming to brush her teeth/drags out the process once in the bathroom. I’m with you up until “Follow Through”. How do I explain that the reason she can’t have chocolate right now is because she “chose not to eat sugar” last night/earlier this morning? Similarly, how do I respond if she says “I’ll brush now” in order to get the treat? She really, REALLY likes her chocolate 🙂


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